The Fiat 500e will return to America in 2024

The Fiat 500e perfectly captures the difference between the new car market in Europe and America. On the continent, the little 500e has a range of 199 WLTP miles from a 37.3 kWh battery and was a runaway sales success. It’s the perfect size for negotiating densely populated European cities with streets originally designed for ox carts. In America, where 80% of new vehicles are either SUVs or light trucks, the business case for the 500e is far less compelling.

The original Fiat 500e went on sale in America in 2011. Everyone knew it was just a compliant car designed to circumvent the zero-emissions rules set by CARB in California. It wasn’t a very good car and Sergio Marcchione, Fiat Chrysler’s mercurial manager at the time, begged people not to buy one because he said the company was losing $20,000 on every 500th sold. A few years ago, Stellantis pulled the 500, 500L and 500e from the North American market.

Speaking at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week, Fiat CEO Olivier Francois told the press that the 500e would be reintroduced to America in 2024. In rather cryptic remarks, he said Stellantis was planning “to explore alternative business models”, such as subscriptions and car sharing. “Maybe you will never have a prize. Maybe it will just be the use. Maybe there will be a combination of the two. However, he said: “There will be a good dose of digital, that’s for sure, we all have to collectively reinvent the economic model.

According Car and driver, the latest iteration of the 500e will be offered as a coupe and also with a soft top. It should have an EPA range of 150 miles from the same 37.3 kWh battery used in European cars, which sell for €22,000 after incentives.

Image courtesy of Fiat

Interview with Gaby Coppola of Bloomberg Hyperdrive (email) in Los Angeles, Francois said Fiat is bringing the car back to the United States as a kind of guinea pig – an experimental way to explore new business models, use cases and forms of ownership. “The real ROI of this project is learning, intel,” he said. “We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

Coppola adds that the Fiat 500e would work well with Stellantis’ Free2Move, the car-sharing and subscription business it’s operated since 2016. While other automakers have moved away from car-sharing as a losing effort to money, Stellantis was particularly optimistic, saying it has cracked the code to operate profitably. Car-sharing works best in dense urban centres, which is precisely where François plans to market the new 500e.

Separately, Francois said Tech Crunch that the reintroduction of the 500th in North America is not about boosting sales. In fact, the company is “capacity constrained” thanks to strong sales in Europe. Rather, it is about imagining “the future of mobility with a car designed for the city”. Is America ready for urbanites? What if you woke up in the middle of the night with an irresistible urge to curl in La Jolla or visit Alaska? What then, huh? 150 miles of range won’t be enough, will it?

Still, the average American drives less than 30 miles a day, which means for some people a 500e would have enough range for nearly a week of riding. Maybe this subscription or car-sharing model that François talked about would be just the ticket to get these people behind the wheel of an electric Fiat.

The 500e will not be a stripped down leader when it arrives in America. It will come with an advanced driver assistance system that provides “Level 2+” features such as lane centering and adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, blind spot detection and 360 degree parking sensors. It will also come with Fiat’s UConnect 5 connected car system and a 10.25-inch touchscreen.

Takeaway meals

For some drivers, the new Fiat 500e may be just what the doctor ordered: small, efficient, nimble and inexpensive. It will be interesting to see how Fiat’s new market research experiment plays out when (and if) the new 500e arrives in America in 2024 as planned.

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